I am privileged enough to be one of the trainee rangers at Londolozi for 2015 – during this time I have seen some incredible sightings, but nothing could have prepared me for what lay in store on the morning of 29 January. It is something that I’m sure everyone who was involved in, will never forget.
On drive with Jessica Boon and her tracker Robert, the morning was overcast and crisp, a nice change from the extreme humidity we have been experiencing. We started out from Pioneer Camp at 5:30 am and the plan for the morning was to track a male leopard in the eastern section of the reserve, which had briefly been seen crossing into some thickets a little earlier on. While scanning the area for tracks and listening out for any alarm calls that might give away his position a message came through on the radio from Rich Ferrier. He was at Shingi Dam and had just witnessed a crocodile latch onto an unsuspecting wildebeest cow. Being close by, the plan changed immediately. We headed straight to the dam and arrived roughly five minutes after he had called it in. The usually peaceful dam that we have spent so much time at observing weavers, hippos and elephants had changed drastically.
We approached the water hole and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were six hyenas circling in anticipation with their tails up at the waters edge, with a clearly stressed herd of wildebeest just behind alarming at the scene unfolding in the water. There, about knee deep in the water, stood a female wildebeest with a massive crocodile firmly attached to her nose. In the background the sawing sound of the male leopard we had been looking for echoed through the nearby Maxabeni drainage line. The wildebeest, who quite understandably was under considerable stress, was struggling to break the grasp of the fierce and hungry reptile. Jumping and splashing around, she slowly headed deeper into the dark water. Meanwhile the hyenas continued to circle the edges of the dam hoping to grab hold of the struggling mammal. All the while a single female hippo had been watching from across the dam. What happened next was something nobody could have seen coming…
The hippo slowly started making her way closer to investigate the scene, and at the time the general thought was that she was going to try and help the wildebeest out of its deadly situation. She did nothing of the sort. She approached to within centimeters and splashed violently at the water. She then, to our astonishment, bit once, twice and then a third time into the wildebeest before plunging the now dead animal into the mercy of the water. For the next hour we sat and watched the unbelievable scene unfold in front of our eyes. The hippo was thrashing the wildebeest backwards and forwards in the water like a rag doll, all the while the crocodile remained firmly grasped to its prize. It seemed to be a tug-of-war game between the massive mammal and the cold calculating reptile. Eventually after about an hour of thrashing, tossing and dunking, the hippo let go of the wildebeest, and the croc made its way to the opposite side of the water hole with its meal. The corpse will more than likely be stashed under the water for the croc to feast on in the coming days.
It is a scene which I will more than likely never see again and will leave us all in bewilderment for years to come. A truly unbelievable morning nobody will ever forget.
Has anyone ever witnessed hippo behaviour like this?
Written and photographed by: Nick Kleer